Consolidating Our Dysfunctional Government

Thursday, 18 Apr 2013 07:39 AM

By Neal Asbury

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While I disagree with most everything this administration has done relative to our economy and getting this country working again, as an exporter, I do agree with the consolidation of our global trade infrastructure into a single powerful agency.

As I point out in my book, Conscientious Equity, over the past five decades we have created a bloated behemoth government infrastructure to manage our global trade relations that is uncompetitive and inefficient. Our exporters are not getting the support they need to combat foreign governments that erode our access to markets by erecting insuperable barriers to our products and services while stealing our intellectual property with impunity.

The House recently introduced H.R. 5326, which includes $468 million for the International Trade Administration (ITA), $51 million for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) and $83 million for the International Trade Commission. Much of these funds are being wasted because of duplication of efforts, while important services required by our exporters are not getting addressed due to a lack of funding.

Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., in 2012 introduced an amendment that would have cut more than a quarter billion dollars from the ITA. People are starting to pay attention.

I don’t want to castigate the ITA. Since it was created on Jan. 2, 1980, headed by the Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade, it has advocated for some very good policies. But like many government departments, it can’t keep pace with changes in the 21st century global economy.

In 2011, I handed Lisa Brown, assistant to the President and Staff Secretary (she had recently been appointed to a leadership role to guide the White House government reorganization team), a copy of Conscientious Equity, which offers a vision for America’s trade relations with the world. In it I advocate for the creation of a Department of Global Commerce, which would combine the 22 federal agencies with shared responsibilities in managing America’s trade infrastructure and provide American leadership and resolve in ensuring our manufacturers are competing in the world market on a level playing field.

After several discussions I had with White House staff, it appeared that the administration was seriously considering my recommendations. In January 2012, President Obama took a less ambitious approach, proposing to consolidate some of the federal agencies that have overlapping trade and business development responsibilities including the Department of Commerce, the Small Business Administration, USTR, the Export-Import Bank, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the Trade and Development Authority.

Obama missed an opportunity to take the bold steps required to spur trade and reduce waste. The Department of Global Commerce would be headed by a Secretary of Global Commerce with extensive experience in international business. The Secretary of Global Commerce would be equal in stature to that of the Secretary of State or the Secretary of Treasury. He or she would have a strong portfolio with real authority over important policy decisions.

The role of the Secretary of Global Commerce would be substantially different from the current role of the U.S. Trade Representative and the U.S. Secretary of Commerce. This cabinet member would preside over all trade policy discussions.

This consolidation would free up billions of dollars, some of which could be used to hire lawyers and other staff needed to do battle with our competitors in enforcing trade agreements and protecting our intellectual property.

We would have the funds to reinvest in the things that we need, versus the labyrinths of fiefdoms that pervade our government, adding no value whatsoever to the folks they are ostensibly supporting. Each of these agencies is complete with kings and queens, legions of workers and cavernous castles that seem to go on for miles.

In his recently revealed budget, Obama proposes the formation of the “Department of Business” (surely he could be a bit more creative in naming what would be the most important agency in the federal government), which would eliminate 1,000 to 2,000 federal jobs and $3 billion in overhead. It’s a good start, but it is a fraction of what it could be.

Fixing our trade infrastructure requires more than a half-hearted effort. It requires a vision for the reduction of waste while investing our tax dollars where we get the greatest return. The Department of Global Commerce would be the solution.

Without the right government infrastructure to support our exporters, the United States is losing about 8 million good-paying jobs. You would think getting this right would be priority number one in our fight for jobs.

We need to create jobs. And the most efficient way to put American workers back to work is by spurring growth in a robust U.S. export program. And it starts with creating an agency with global trade authority that will eliminate waste and rebuild our economy.

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